Indoor American Chestnut
Nurseries in Appalachian Schools
Engineering Better Chestnut Pots
January/February 2009

View the progress at each school
in photos below!

CLICK HERE TO learn more about
the American Chestnut
from Charlie Chestnut!


See the results of planting the seedlings at
Zeb Mountain on 13 May 2009

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) are conducting research on whether American chestnut seeds should be planted directly on mine sites prepared by the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) or whether they should be grown in a nursery and then transplanted to FRA sites as bare-root seedlings.  Students at Elk Valley, Lake City Middle School, and Briceville Elementary School will expand the OSM/TACF study by growing chestnut seedlings in an indoor nurseries and then evaluating the success of transplanting potted seedlings at FRA sites.   

Read article in Clinton Courier News



Rather than merely planting American chestnut seeds in plastic pots, students are researching and experimenting to engineer a better chestnut pot.  Experience shows that bigger pots allow better root development to reduce transplant shock.  However, bigger pots are more expensive in terms of potting soil, nursery space, transportation, and labor to dig holes deep enough at FRA sites to accommodate the bigger potted seedlings.  American chestnuts prefer loose, rocky ground.  The loose part will make the digging easier, but the rocky part will present problems. 

(A big THANK YOU to Greg Miller, owner of Empire Chestnut Company and Sam McInturff from the TN Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation for providing us with the nuts for our indoor nurseries!!

Thanks to teachers Vijaya Morton (Elk Valley), Denise Houdeschell ( Lake City Middle School), and Gladys Stooksbury (Briceville School).

If a seedling can be grown in a biodegradable container, then the seedling can be transplanted without being removed from the container.  The theory is that transplant shock for seedlings grown in smaller biodegradable cylindrical containers will be comparable to seedlings grown in larger pots, but can be done at lower cost.

Students experimented using paper pots, all made with a slenderness ratio (SR) of 2 to 1.  (Please note that aerospace engineers define SR as the height divided by the diameter of a rocket whereas civil engineers define it as the height divided by the minimum radius of gyration of a column.  These chestnut pot engineers are defining SR as the height divided by the diameter of a biodegradable pot).  Other schools participating in this study can use different slenderness ratios in building their biodegradable pots to expand the database.  Steps in the pot-making process include:

Step 1.  Select a tube to use as a mold.  Measure the diameter and compute the height to provide a slenderness ratio of 2.  Other schools can experiment using a different slenderness ratio (See adjacent graph).  Select the type of paper you will use for the pot.  Smaller pots can be made using newspaper, but larger pots may require paper with larger dimensions.  We used discarded engineering drawings for the larger diameter pots.    


Step 2.  Measure twice and fold your paper once. 



Step 3.  Roll the paper around the end of the tube with excess paper extending beyond the end of the tube to create a bottom for the pot.  Staple the paper together at the seam.  (Do not staple the paper to the mold). 



Step 4.  Fold the paper extending beyond the end of the tube into the tube. 



Step 5.  Pull the paper pot from the mold.  Add staples to secure the seams.


Step 6.  Scrunch the paper to form the bottom.  An engineering scale works well in this case. 

Step 6A:  Experiment with scrunching the bottom down before removing pot from mold.  Regardless of your method, the adjacent photo shows a completed pot.

Step 7.  Fill the pot with potting mix, water, and tamp in segments until the pot is nearly full.  Leave about 1 1/2 to 2 inches at the top to allow room for planting the seed and still provide room at the top for watering.


Step 8. 
Add rubber bands around the tube pots for lateral support as needed in preparation for adding the seed.  As the pot gets wet during the growing season, additional rubber bands may be needed.

Step 9.  If a radical is growing from the nut, point it down.  Otherwise, plant the nut with the flat side down and cover with about ½ inch to 1 inch of potting mix.

As an added experiment, a combination pot/tree shelter was made and tested using 4-inch diameter PVC sewer pipe slit lengthwise.  In this experiment, a slenderness ratio of 3.5 to 1 was used for the mold and the newspaper was installed inside the mold as a liner.  The mold will be left in place during growing of the seedling. 

During transplanting, the mold can be opened and removed to allow the seedling to be placed in the hole with little disturbance to the roots.

Our experiment showed that the tube could be removed while maintaining the potting mix cylinder during backfilling of the simulated planting hole.  We could even remove the newspaper liner from the upper part of the potting mix.  By using perforated sewer pipe, the growing tube could also double as a tree shelter to protect the young seedlings after transplanting.

The folks at National Coal Corporation have invited these chestnut pot engineers to plant their potted seedlings at the Zeb Mountain FRA site later this spring.  Data gathered during the growing and transplanting will be compiled and documented on this web page. 

The goal here is to gain experience for the day when blight-resistant hybrids are ready for planting.  We want to have a high survival rate because there won’t be a lot of hybrid nuts available in the beginning.  Also, there won’t be seedlings to plant that first year, only nuts, so we want data to justify which techniques to use (i.e. direct seeding, transplanted potted seedlings, or growing seedlings in a nursery with transplanting of bare-root seedlings before the start of the second growing season after hybrid nuts are produced).

Additional photos and details are shown below.

(Be sure to view Lake City Middle School and Briceville School photos below the Elk Valley photos)

POTTING MIX RECIPE:  12 quarts peat moss, 12 quarts vermiculite, 12 quarts perlite, 2 tablespoons lime, and 3 tablespoons Terra Sorb

FERTILIZER:  ¼ teaspoon (i.e. a pinch) of Miracid will be dissolved in a gallon of water for combination watering and fertilizing.

WATERING:  We want the potting mix to maintain the feel of a wrung-out dishrag and will water to maintain that consistency.  If the pot becomes saturated, then we will know to cut back on the amount of water. 


Equivalent Measures

3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon
4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon = 1/3 cup
8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup
12 tablespoons = 3/4 cup
16 tablespoons = 1 cup (8 ounces)
2 cups = 1 pint (16 ounces)
4 cups (2 pints) = 1 quart (32 ounces)
8 cups (4 pints) = 1/2 gallon (64 ounces)
4 quarts = 1 gallon (128 ounces)


Other schools are encouraged to start similar projects using other biodegradable pot-building materials (manure, saturated cardboard, etc.) and different slenderness ratios. 
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER AT ELK VALLEY SCHOOL:  Check out the sprouts growing up!!
And, a few weeks later...
A few weeks later
at Elk Valley School:
Growing progress:  


Check out the progress at Briceville School's nursery a few weeks later:

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